LET THE HERD INSTINCT BE HEARD
To sit in a circle, breathe together, become aware of our own place in the community and recognize the power that is present when we are all conscious of the connections that bond us is one of the most powerful experiences we will ever have. This simple act makes us feel safe, connected and part of something bigger. It fosters the sense of belonging which is directly connected to the herd instinct.
This article is about nothing new, surprising, shocking or revolutionary. It’s my take on something so simple that we, or at least I, often overlook. It’s about being in circle.
“Being” in circle?
One of my oldest and dearest memories is sitting among my parents and their friends in a dark night under the stars while on holiday in Colombia. I don´t remember how old I was, where exactly we were or if my sisters were also there. I have no clear image of the moment, but what I remember vividly is the feeling of protection and safety brought on by this simple act. I remember the way my body felt warm, happy and safe as I heard the laughter of the grownups while they enjoyed each other’s company.
Since the beginning, humans have gathered in circle to feel complete, secure and connected. The circle is a powerful archetype/symbol that can create an experience of expanded consciousness that emotionally translates into feelings of trust, tenderness, compassion and braveness. The circle has been an Archetype/symbol of completion, the feminine and masculine energy coming together, the sun, the moon, totality, wholeness, original perfection, the Self, the infinite, eternity, and timelessness, among others.
By sitting in circle we can see and acknowledge every other person gracing the circle with their presence and open up to embrace a grander image of ourselves as our figure is reflected in the others pupils. Our ancestors knew this and constantly practiced sitting and dancing in circles to connect, create and strengthen the sense of community. Our children when growing up do it intuitively as well, even if they haven´t consciously learned it. But somehow as adults, the practice of sitting in circle and/or the awareness of its power gets lost in the everyday life.
For me there is a difference between sitting in circle and being in circle. The experience of having surrendered our ego to serve the community while at the same time expressing ourselves through it, has a powerful emotional and physiological meaning which strengthens the bonds we have to our peers. This experience is best achieved when being in full presence with one another. Being in circle doesn´t necessarily happen every time. It requires intention, presence and mindfulness to embody the power that being in circle represents.
Of course you already knew, or at least intuited the power of intention and presence to give meaning and deepness to any act we do. Intention is the purpose we give to our actions and depending on it the same action may feel and be totally different. Presence is being here and now.
A great example of the importance of intention and presence is to dance. When I dance I do it for different reasons: to have fun, to learn a technique, to connect with people (and if there are women I like, this can be especially sweet), to feel free, to inspire my son to dance, to connect with my inner energy, to become one with god (or at least try), or sometimes just because my body needs to move. The same body acting (moving) in a similar way, with the same music and in the same place will have a different meaning/color and of course a different outcome, depending on my intention and presence.
Examples like this are everywhere: when having sex, sitting down to meditate, staring at somebody´s eyes, having a drink, meeting colleagues, etc. The experience and the outcomes will depend directly on the intention we set and on how present we are. Intention will give power to our vision and presence will support us to commit to make this vision come true. For me intention and presence go hand in hand with the transformative power of the ritual of being in circle.
When trying to be in circle, our ego sometimes gets in the way. I have nothing against ego, we need it to affirm ourselves, but sometimes it gets in the way of experiencing connection and surrendering to the community. Our ego doesn´t particularly like to surrender. This is especially true in corporate contexts where more often than not, competition, individuality and self-interests are presented and embodied as values. In my experience, sometimes the challenges that we face to create a shared, safe and trustful environment by agreeing on a common intention and staying present to follow through, are just too big.
How people and systems normally behave
I have coached many teams from a wide range of clients that range from large multinational corporations to academic institutions, NGO´s and public institutions. It doesn’t matter if you work for a family owned company in Kampala Uganda, a Finish NGO, a Houston-based oil company or IT start up in Delhi, every institution holds meetings.
I view corporations, institutions, and organizations as systems, which behave in a similar manner (or at least try) to living organisms. What I mean by that is that the parts that constitute the system need to be acknowledged, taken care of and seen in order to interact well with the rest of the system. The actions of the individual parts of the organism will impact not only the other constituent parts but also its surroundings. Corporations, for example, affect, positively or negatively, not only the people who work there but also the surrounding community. At the end, we live in a world of interactions, where individuals, and collectives affect each other constantly.
One of the key skills that teams ask for or need without knowing it to reach a new level of performance is to conduct effective meetings. This means communicating effectively about objectives, figures, numbers, tasks and responsibilities. It also means acknowledging the presence, energy, creativity and opinions of all present. It also means co-creating a shared vision (intention) of what they want to achieve and have the courage to set up agreements, and follow through with presence to achieve that vision.
To say this is relatively easy, but to actually embody it and make it part of the organizational culture is a big challenge. It means learning how to create a safe environment where people can communicate and share their opinions openly, without fear or anxiety. It means learning how to create a space where people feel part of something bigger instead of feeling separated, attacked and competing. Contrary to popular belief, many organizations have already acknowledged the importance of addressing the human aspect of teams to effectively achieve the expected outcomes, and have a positive impact in the well-being of collaborators.
But I still see teams and systems that act without acknowledging the human aspect of being together. They fail at recognizing the person that is behind the title and tasks they perform. The problem is that if organizations intend to achieve a concrete outcome without strengthening the bonds and nurturing the sense of community, the individual commitment of their employees won’t be as strong and will lack the necessary passion to pursue and achieve the desired goals.
I’m writing about organizations, because 2 of every 3 people work in such an environment. Humans have always felt the need to come together and most of us now do it to produce goods and services. The intention of building community is hardly there in our everyday life. Our post-modern societies don´t encourage that felling of togetherness as much individuality, competition and independence. We are taught that relationships are there to provide services and that money is the mean to ensure everyone wins in the interactions. Somehow this method works to foster economic development and growth, but now we know that when we only relate to others in terms of an economic interchange, it has a devastating impact on human relationships and the environment.
The eternal circle
The herd instinct, as any other, cannot be denied or suppressed; that´s why in every generation there have been people who recognize the power of the circle and have used it in a conscious way to foster community. But somehow I feel that today´s mainstream society is far away from embracing the power of human connection through being in circle.
I believe that the seed of consciousness is inside us and that trusting our instincts is the key to unlocking our hidden wisdom. The herd instinct is for me is one of the most important aspects of life. It’s the sacred impulse of coming, being and staying together. Community living is a trend nowadays in the circles I frequent. I know people who after thriving in some of the most exciting cities in the world have decided to move back to the countryside to live a simpler life among similar-minded people in communities. Other circles practice Poliamori as a mean to connect and expand love. They believe that love is an infinite energy that can be lived through many people. This is another way to practice sitting in circles.
Many people are now really interested in shamanism. One of the things people interested in Indigenous wisdom always do no matter which tribe you are with, is that they will always sit or dance in circles. The power of the ancient Indian wisdom resides on its simplicity. And circles are always present as a powerful symbol of togetherness.
As for my work, in Biodanza we always start and finish our dance sessions in circle. We do it as a metaphor of being together as co-creators of the eternal dance of community. I always work with the circle as a symbol of being together, complete and integrated.
In corporate workshops, AA meetings, group therapy, kindergartens, women and men groups and in many more contexts circles are everywhere, we just have to open our heart, set clear intentions and be present to connect.
What is our challenge?
If you have gotten this far into this article it’s because you recognize the power of being in circle. So let me ask you, how often are you in circle? With whom? And where can you bring it to foster a feeling of togetherness?
This is a call for mindfulness and action. What I’m about to suggest is so simple that you may think that it’s not worth trying, but I challenge you to do it at least for one month. Every time you sit in a circle together with people (to work, eat, drink, dance, etc), do it with the firm intention of using that time to connect and bond. Actively speak up and share your intention with the people you are sitting with and see what their reactions are. Invite them to be present, to share their intentions and create a common vision. I have done it with different crowds and I´ve been amazed with the impact a shared intention and active presence have on a circle and the lessons that each person takes with them.
Let us reclaim the herd instinct and use it to foster the new communities we as species need to assume our responsibility of guardians (not owners) of this planet and of every living being.